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Taliban routed from near Kabul

A mayor and police chief died as the government regained control of Giro, seized the day before.

KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police retook a district outside the capital from the Taliban yesterday, pushing out enemy fighters who had seized the area in fierce fighting a day earlier, a senior Afghan official said.

Marajudin Pathan, governor of Ghazni province, said a hastily organized force of more than 250 officers encountered no resistance when it swept into Giro.

"The district is under our control," Pathan told the Associated Press. "There was no resistance, because the cowardly enemy escaped."

He said police, assisted by Afghan soldiers and troops from the U.S.-led military coalition, were combing villages in search of any fighters still hiding there.

The Taliban takeover of Giro, just 110 miles from Kabul, helped undermine assertions by the Afghan government and its foreign backers that President Hamid Karzai had expanded his control of the country.

Militants have repeatedly overrun towns in rural areas, especially in the south and east, despite the presence of NATO and U.S. troops, whose ranks have grown to 47,000.

But the Taliban's hold is usually short-lived.

Officials said more than 100 suspected Taliban attacked Giro on Thursday evening, setting fire to buildings and cutting telephone lines.

The district mayor, police chief, and three policemen were killed during several hours of fighting, deputy governor Kazim Allayer said. Pathan estimated that 10 of the militants also died.

NATO-led forces are pushing forward with their biggest-ever offensive in southern Afghanistan to root out enemy fighters in the opium-producing heartland of Helmand province.

Taliban fighters have become more active in recent weeks after a winter lull, and few areas of the country remain free of political violence.

The U.S.-led coalition said, meanwhile, that its forces killed five suspected Taliban militants and arrested five others during an operation yesterday in southeastern Zabul province.